A Tiller of the Ground

📅 Published on August 8, 2020

“A Tiller of the Ground”

Written by William Dalphin
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 23 minutes

Rating: 8.00/10. From 4 votes.
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You think good and evil don’t exist? That ain’t true. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve even seen the Devil.

Our family was small; just my parents, my older brother Jacob, and me. Ma always doted on me, being the baby and all, much to Pa’s annoyance. He’d tell her at the dinner table, “stop babying him, Gal.” and she’d coo at him and say, “Don’t you worry; he’ll grow up big and strong just like your other son.”

I hoped so. I always admired my brother Jacob. He was tall like Pa, and almost as strong too. Ma always liked to tell the story about when Jacob was six and he tried to help Pa work the plow, and how the horses dragged him through the dirt and broke his arm but he didn’t even cry. He never cried. Maybe Jacob wanted to be like Pa just like I wanted to be like Jacob. “He even looks just like Pa when he was that age,” Ma would say.

I’ll never forget the night Satan destroyed our family…

But I can’t just jump right to that.

We were good, Christian people. I’d say grace at every meal, a prayer at bedtime, even combed the nits out of my hair to look nice for church on Sunday. If there was one person in town more devoted to the lord than me, it was Pa. It was him that made sure me and Jacob grew up right, showed proper respect to him and Ma, and followed the teachings of the Bible. Not many other people from town would stop and talk to us after church; I thought most looked at our family with jealous eyes because of what we had. I even saw old lady Milton give Ma the stink-eye once as we were heading to our car after a service, but I didn’t say nothing because it wouldn’t be right to speak ill of someone, even when they’re thinking bad thoughts at you.

That’s not to say I never got in trouble. I wasn’t no saint by any means, and sometimes Jacob would talk me into playing hooky with him to go fishing some down at the river, or shirk a chore he thought Pa wouldn’t notice hadn’t got done while he was away in town. Sometimes even Ma would be in on it, and she’d encourage me to go play, knowing I still had to milk the cows or feed the pigs. I knew I’d get in trouble if Pa found out, but Ma would stroke my head and whisper that she wouldn’t tell. She was so good at convincing me to do what I knew was wrong. And she didn’t have to tell Pa… Most of the time I’d feel guilty after and try to make up the work, and if I couldn’t I’d just confess to Pa myself, though I tried to keep Jacob or Ma out of it. That didn’t rarely work, of course. Pa had a way of sniffing the guilt out of us.

Whenever it came down to punishment though, I got off easy. Maybe it was because of my age, but whenever I got in trouble I’d get sent to a corner to read the good book. Jacob’s punishment was always being put out in the fields to work, sometimes long into the night. I felt bad that Jacob’s punishment was always more severe than mine. Pa would go get him hours later and he’d clearly be exhausted, but he always had a determined look on his face too, like he would’ve worked until the next day if he had to. Ma would bring him a glass of water and pet his hair and tell him how good he was. Of course then I’d be caught watching from the corner and they’d shoo me back to reading and staring at the wall.

It was one of those nights of punishment when I first saw it. Pa had gone into town after lunch, Jacob was out by the road fixing some fencing, and I was cleaning out the hayloft. Ma came into the barn, looking pretty as ever with her glowing smile and called me down where she handed me a glass of lemonade. She said it was such a fine day as she petted my cheek, such a lovely day, it was a shame to waste all of it cooped up, and that I should go down to the river to play for a bit.

“Not too long though,” she laughed and gave me a pinch, “your father will be back before dinner.”

So I ran down to the river thinking about skipping stones and listening to the wind rustle through the trees. Of course, when you’re little you don’t have a good sense of time, and it turned out a season of frog eggs had hatched which distracted me for hours. When Ma sent Jacob to look for me, I was soaked to the core from falling over trying to catch tadpoles.

“You twit!” he smirked at me, “Is this what you’ve been up to? We gotta get home! Dad’ll be there any minute and you need to change into something dry!”

I realized Jacob was right, the shadows had gotten long while I wasn’t paying attention. “Aw, nuts!”

We sprinted back like a tornado was on our heels, but when we got there Pa’s truck was already parked out front and there he sat on the porch waiting for us. He looked more disappointed than angry, which was a relief because it meant things wouldn’t be too bad that time.

“Pa, I–” I stammered.

“Go inside now,” he said with a nod. He was looking at Jacob.

I glanced at Jacob and realized Pa misunderstood the situation. I had to make things right.

“Sir,” I said, “this was my fault. Jacob had nothing to do with it. He just went and got me when he realized I was gone.”

“That right, Jacob?” Pa cocked his head at Jacob.

“No, sir,” Jacob said to my astonishment, “I won’t let him lie for me. We’re both guilty here.”

I didn’t know what to say; I couldn’t understand why Jacob was lying and allowing himself to get in trouble. It wasn’t going to lessen my punishment, if anything it was going to make things worse.

Pa sat there a while, staring at both of us, and I could see the heat rising in his face. Finally, he pointed at me, “You. Get inside and get up to your room.”

“My room?” I didn’t normally go to my room as punishment.

“You’re done for the day. Get ready for bed.”

My common sense was screaming for me to shut up and do as he said, but my mouth kept going. “Why?”

There it was, the glint of anger in his eye. We could see him clenching and releasing his fists to try to contain his rage at my defiance. “For lying to me on top of everything. Now… GET!

“It’ll be alright,” Jacob whispered, nudging me forward, but all I could think was how it would have been if he hadn’t lied.

Inside, Ma was watching from by the oven while she stirred a pot of soup. She gave me a sad, guilty-looking smile, then ushered me over to her. Leaning down, she kissed me on the forehead. “I’m so sorry, my sweet boy. It’ll be alright.”

“I didn’t lie!” I insisted.

She just shook her head, “You’ll understand someday.”

I felt tears welling up in my eyes and I hurried to my room, embarrassed. I didn’t dare slam the door, but I really wanted to. Instead, I took my frustration out by opening and shutting my drawers really forcefully until I had calmed down. As I watched out the window, Pa led Jacob into the fields. When they were out of sight, I brushed my teeth, said my prayers, and got into bed. Neither Pa nor Ma came to check on me, so I just lay there with my hands together, asking Jesus to help me understand why Jacob had done what he did.

Hours crept by. I remember hearing Pa and Ma down in the kitchen talking and having dinner. Pa mostly grumbled loudly stuff I couldn’t understand while Ma said things like, “That’s okay” and “You know they love you.” Eventually, I drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up, the moon was peeking through my window. I didn’t know what time it was, but it felt late enough that everyone else must’ve been in bed. I could hear crunching coming from outside, and I rolled over to look out the window, wondering if one of the cows had gotten loose. The horror I felt when I saw our scarecrow walking by in the moonlight was like my heart was clawing its way up my throat.

Let me tell you about our scarecrow. It wasn’t anything fancy or nothing but it did the job. Just one of Pa’s old, checkered shirts and a pair of extra-large overalls Grandpa Ulysses had gotten from Goodwill, all stitched together like a bag with a pair of shoddy gardening gloves and shit-kickers and stuffed with straw. The head was a burlap sack that someone had sewn a pair of big, black, shiny shoe button eyes on. Pa had said it’d been part of the family for generations, that they’d had it when he was little and his Pa before him. When a piece of the clothes got too ragged or old, they’d get replaced, but it was the same burlap head as he remembered when he was a child.

And it was walking through our front yard toward the barn.

I was frozen in fear. Normally, the scarecrow hangs draped out in the far field like a sack of old potatoes, but that night it had grown. The buttons on its shirt were straining to burst. Straw was spilling out of it and yet it kept moving. It walked like a robber in a cartoon, picking up the boots with each step as it crept across our yard under the light of the moon. Just as it was about halfway to the barn, the head rotated on its neck and it looked up directly at my window.

I ducked down, knowing for certain Satan himself had just seen me. I didn’t know what to do, because my instinct was to run to Ma and Pa and tell them what I saw, but I was so stunned by the terror of it all that I immediately started questioning whether what I had seen was real or my imagination, and I didn’t want to get in bigger trouble for waking Pa up with crazed stories of the Devil in our scarecrow.

When I peeked back up over the window sill, the yard was empty. I sighed and relaxed a little, before other thoughts started going through my head. Was it real? What if it saw me looking at it and was coming to get me as I knelt there? I dove back into bed but I couldn’t sleep. I lay there huddled under my covers, listening for the sound of it breaking a window downstairs or even just crunching as it walked back across the yard. Neither sound ever came.

* * * * * *

Morning came and I jumped out of bed when the rooster crowed, hurrying to get dressed and downstairs. Pa was already up, as usual, making breakfast. He looked at me with a stoic expression and asked if I had something I wanted to tell him. My first thought was to start yammering that I’d seen Satan in our scarecrow last night. Then I realized that wasn’t the answer he was looking for.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said.

“For what?”

I sighed. “For lying.”

He nodded, then handed me a plate of eggs and toast.

After my morning meal, I went and did my chores, but I steered clear of the far field where the scarecrow was. I almost convinced myself that the whole thing had been a dream, but part of me deep inside couldn’t get over the notion that it felt too real to have been imagined. Was I crazy? Maybe I had fallen asleep and had one of them real vivid nightmares where you wake up and think you had been awake to begin with.

Jacob came by at one point and tousled my hair. I thought about asking him why he’d lied about everything yesterday, but instead I decided to ask him something else.

“Do you believe in the Devil?”

He looked half surprised and half-amused by my question. “Sure. Why?”

“Do you think he’s like a physical person?”

“You mean can you run into him? Hell, I don’t know.” He set down the tools he was carrying and squinted at me. “Why are you asking?”

The last thing I wanted was Jacob laughing at me, thinking I was a silly, little baby. “I had a dream about him.”

“Oh, yeah? What’d he look like?”

I saw the scarecrow in my mind. “He had black eyes and no mouth.”

“Couldn’t have been the Devil then.”

“Why is that?”

“That’s how he gets you, isn’t it? He’s the great deceiver. If he’s got no mouth, what’s he going to lie to you with?”

He winked at me and tapped the side of his nose, and then, grabbing the tools, went back to what he was doing.

By the end of the day, I was more certain than ever that I had dreamed it all, a product of my guilty mind. I must have felt so ashamed of myself for letting everything go wrong yesterday that I dreamed the purveyor of eternal punishment had come up from Hell to take me back with him.

After our most recent shenanigans, Jacob and I were as good as angels, trying to appease Pa. Up at dawn, doing our chores, getting homework done as soon as we got home, properly washing our plates after dinner, reading silently until bedtime, then giving Pa a hug and kissing Ma goodnight before heading off to bed. Ma would smile and pet us gently and tell us what lovely sons she had. And no devil came around. I was relieved.

Almost a week passed before I saw him again.

I hadn’t even done anything wrong that day. Maybe I said my prayers a little too fast before climbing into bed, I wasn’t sure. All I knew was I woke up to the sound of soft swishing from outside, rolled over still half asleep, and there was the scarecrow walking out of the field again. It lurched past Pa’s truck, swinging its arms like it had trouble steadying itself. Its boots thumped with each step, louder than before, not the least bit concerned with being noticed.

There was a scream inside me, but it was trapped down in my gut. I was paralyzed, unable to look away. I don’t think I would’ve even been able to hide if it turned its head to look at me again. Fortunately, it didn’t. It just kept walking, right past the house and out toward the barn. As I watched, it stopped at the barn door, pulled open the door, and entered. I could see a faint light coming from inside.

“Old lady Milton,” I whispered. I don’t know why that was my first thought, but I felt certain she had cursed us, envious of our loving, devout family. Despite my paralyzing fear, I felt an obligation… I had to do the lord’s work and drive the Devil out. My hands were shaking as I got out of bed. Grabbing my bible and my housecoat, I snuck downstairs, not daring to turn on any of the lights as I went. I crept through the dark house to the front door, avoiding all the known squeaky boards, and even held the clasp on the screen door so it wouldn’t wake Ma or Pa when I shut it.

Every step I took through the yard sounded like the stomp of a hippopotamus in my ears. My vision was dampened by the cloudy night, but I could still make out a flickering firelight from just beyond the barn door. I pondered what I’d find when I got there, maybe a portal straight to Hell itself. Every nerve was straining, my body tense, ready to turn tail and run if need be while I whispered to myself the Lord’s Prayer, holding the bible over my heart to protect me. My breathing got so ragged from the tension that I was sure the Devil would hear me coming long before I got there.

As I got closer I heard a noise coming from inside the barn. It was faint at first, but the nearer I got, the clearer it became. It was a woman crying. It almost sounded like Ma. The last few feet I crouched down low and scampered to the barn door to peek inside, wondering why Ma would be outside that late at night.

The day will never come that I’ll forget what I saw.

The barn was lit by an old oil lantern hanging from one of the beams. Just underneath it, someone had laid out one of our blue flowered picnic blankets that we’d sit on as a family to watch the fireworks in town. Ma was lying on the picnic blanket in her robe and nightgown, her knees bent and legs apart, and the scarecrow was on top of her.

My first reaction was, Lord, help me, Satan is attacking my mother! I gripped the edge of the door, about to charge forward and leap on his back, tear at him with tooth and nail if need be, but then I heard her cry out again and realized she wasn’t in pain. It was sex. The Devil was violating her… or worse, she was giving herself willing to him.

I wanted to yell, to make them stop and see me, but at the same time, I felt a weird kind of curiosity. I’m embarrassed to say, I saw Ma’s bare leg running up the scarecrow’s side and her hands stroking his back as they ground against each other and quietly I watched for a while, kneeling there, trembling, feeling scared and ashamed and angry. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I crept back to the house, looking over my shoulder the whole way as my mother’s moans faded into the distance. Every step I was certain the barn door would swing open and Satan in his scarecrow disguise would come bounding across the yard to snatch me up before I could get to safety. Once I got back to my room, I lay in bed, reliving what I’d seen in my head, listening for any sound of movement from outside. When I fell asleep, my dreams were of fire and brimstone and my Ma burning.

* * * * * *

The following morning when I got up, Pa was already out in the fields with Jacob. Ma was cleaning the breakfast dishes, and though she smiled at me when I came into the kitchen, something felt off about the expression in her eyes.

My Bible was on the breakfast table next to a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of orange juice. I picked it up, realizing I’d dropped it by the barn in my haste to get away last night.

“Were you outside with your book yesterday?” Ma asked as she rinsed off her hands.

Of course, the funny look in her eyes was worry! She was trying to hide her concern that I’d seen her with the Devil – and I knew it. Thinking quick, I told a shameful lie.

“Is that where I lost it? I’d had it in my pocket but it must’ve fallen out some time.”

Ma closed her eyes and sighed, visibly relieved. I wasn’t ready to let her off the hook though, and I needed to know anyway, whether her role in what I had witnessed last night was one of a willing partner, or was she being controlled by evil forces? I had a hard time believing she would do what she did of her own free will. No one wants to believe their mother is Satan’s whore.

“Mom?”

She blinked, unused to me calling her that. “Yeah?”

“Do you believe in Hell?”

The question put her back on guard and she wrinkled her brow while at the same time trying to fake a laugh. “What a question! Of course, I believe in Hell. Why are you asking such a thing?”

The tension in the air that had started to dissipate returned and everything got quiet, like all the background noise just drained from the world. I couldn’t hear anything save my own breathing and the tinkling of the dishes as she stacked them in the drying rack.

“I don’t know, I just wonder sometimes why people do things.” I paused for a moment, watching her look out the window. “Things they know will cause them to suffer later.”

“Well, that’s a good question,” Ma turned back from the sink, leaned against the counter, and forced one of her dazzling smiles, “maybe you should bring that up with the pastor on Sunday.”

I stared down at my oatmeal. “I guess so.”

I didn’t know what to make of it all. There was a smidgen of doubt brewing inside me that was wondering if maybe what I’d seen wasn’t real. After all, wasn’t it possible that the Devil had been tricking me like Jacob said he does, trying to cause me to doubt my own mother? Only one thing in both scenarios was for certain: if what I’d seen was real, I needed to destroy the scarecrow. If what I’d seen was a fiction, I needed to destroy the scarecrow. Either way, that scarecrow had to go. It was the vessel Satan was using after all. With it gone, he had no way to get to us, neither my mother nor me. My only fear was facing it alone. Pa would think I was nuts, and I still wasn’t sure if I trusted Ma. Somehow, I needed to get Jacob to help me.

The chance came sooner than I thought it would.

That afternoon, I was in the back yard splitting wood when Pa and Jacob returned from the fields in the middle of a heated argument, their voices raised enough that I heard them coming. Someone slammed the screen door as they went inside and a moment later Ma crept out with a load of laundry to hang on the line. As she passed, she looked at me and shook her head to indicate that I should stay out.

They were still yelling five minutes later when I finished up and went inside to wash my hands. There was a lot of back and forth, but the gist of their disagreement was over something that had been a sour point in the household for years, namely Jacob going to college.

Jacob was twenty, and had been convinced for years that Pa had money stashed away that could be used to at least help him get a GED, but whenever he broached the subject Pa would insist that there was no money, it was all in the farm, and that he needed both of us here to keep the place from collapsing into disrepair.

“What’s going to happen when you and Mom are gone?” Jacob shouted. He gestured at me, “You expect us to live like a couple of hermits on this dilapidated, old farm?”

“Of course not!” Pa was looking at his wits’ end, and I wondered how long they’d been yelling at each other out in the field before coming inside. “And it’s not dilapidated!”

I need to get out, Dad.” Jacob took Pa’s hand, trying to get him to look him in the eyes, but Pa pulled away. “I want to build things!”

Pa glared at him. “Like what? Office buildings?”

“Like a family for one!”

“You got a family, right here!”

“Stop being so obtuse!” Jacob’s face turned red and he threw his arms out as he yelled. His right hand slapped the old Chinese urn off the fireplace mantle, scattering Grandpa Ulysses’ ashes across the floor.

Everything froze. I was covering my mouth in a gasp, Jacob had his arms out in that angry flailing gesture, and Pa… Pa just stood there staring as the urn went end over end, throwing out a spiraling cloud of his father’s remains.

“What have you done.” It wasn’t a question, just a whisper.

Jacob let his arms drop to his side and looked at the mess. “I–”

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” Pa roared. His hand shot out faster than I’d seen in years, and struck Jacob so hard across the face a line of spittle flew off his lips.

I flinched and grabbed my ears, trying to shrink out of sight. For a moment, I thought it was working too because my father seemed to grow larger, filling the space between him and Jacob. He hadn’t of course, Pa just spent so often hunched over from toiling away every day in the fields that we weren’t used to seeing him stand up straight. He really was a big man, like Ma always said, and even Jacob, as big and strong as he was, looked small next to him.

“Dad! Pa! I’m sorry!” Jacob cried, holding his burning cheek. He dropped to the floor and tried to sweep up the ashes with his hands but this only enraged Pa further, who grabbed him by the neck and lifted him off his knees with one hand.

“You’re going out in the field tonight, boy,” Pa snarled through clenched teeth.

“I didn’t mean to–”

I’d never seen Jacob so shaken. At the same time, something in the back of my mind said, This is exactly what I needed. This is providence, God’s will. The voice in my head was right. It seemed awful to think it, but the pastor always said “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Ma came running in just as Pa turned Jacob toward the door. “What happened? What are you doing to my boy?” She looked at the mess on the floor and went quiet.

Jacob twisted, visibly in pain from the hand squeezing his neck. “Ma, I’m sorry!”

“He’s got to learn his place,” Pa said with a frightening calm in his voice. He shoved Jacob out the front door, letting it slam shut behind them.

Ma looked over at me. “Fetch the broom. Be quick about it.”

In the kitchen, I got the broom and dustpan out of the cabinet. Looking out the window, I watched as Pa and a struggling Jacob cut across the lawn and disappeared among the crops. “Thank you, God,” I whispered.

We had dinner in silence that evening. I said grace quietly to myself, and I saw Pa do the same, his large, powerful hands folded in front of him. Ma just looked out the window at the sun on the horizon with an unsettling sadness in her eyes. She didn’t finish her meal either. I cleared the table for both of them when we were finished, taking every careful precaution to stay on Pa’s good side. The last thing I needed was my own punishment preventing me from sneaking off to the field. In fact, I was terrified that as I stood at the sink, picking food off the dishes and plotting each of my next steps, the Devil was out there, actively plotting against me.

As the night settled, we all sat in the living room and read while news came over the radio. I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was looking at, though. My mind was too preoccupied with visualizing each next move I needed to make.

The forecaster on the radio warned of a thunderstorm approaching, and Ma leaned toward Pa, trying to keep her voice to a whisper, “Are you going to make him stay out there all night? In the rain?”

Pa sighed and shut his book. He looked for a long while at the spot on the floor where his father’s ashes had been scattered. When you got his anger up, he’d go off like a tea kettle, but just like a kettle, once the heat was off, he’d simmer and cool. “I’ll have him come in in an hour. Fair?”

Ma nodded.

My mind was thrown into a panic. I had to move up my plans fast, or I’d have no one to help me when I went out to the field to confront the scarecrow. Matches, I needed matches. No, the Devil lives in fire, and I risked burning the whole field down. What, then? I was on the verge of pulling my hair out trying to come up with something when I had a sliver of an idea.

“Excuse me,” I said, sticking my book in my pocket and standing up. Both parents turned to look at me. I needed something that wouldn’t draw suspicion nor get me in trouble… just a little white lie in the name of righteousness. “I just realized I forgot to… put the maul back in the shed.”

Pa gestured to the door with one hand, “Better go do that. It’s supposed to rain tonight. I don’t want to find rust on my tools.”

Fetching a flashlight from the kitchen, I hurried out onto the porch. Even though they knew I was going outside, I still held the door so that it shut softly, like I was afraid to startle them. My first goal was achieved, I was out. Next, I walked around back to where the wood block was. I hadn’t actually forgotten to put the maul away, but I wanted them to hear me in the backyard, just to avoid raising their suspicions.

After shuffling around the yard for a minute, I walked back around to the shed and stood there looking at the maul in its proper place on the wall. Now a maul is good for splitting wood, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough leverage to swing it well at something up high like the scarecrow on its post. Fortunately, I had my pick of other implements on display on either side of the maul, mostly gardening tools: a trowel, a watering can, an old pair of pruning shears from before Pa pulled up all the bushes around the house to build Ma her garden, a shovel, and a spading fork with four ten-inch, steel tines.

I grabbed the fork off the wall and felt its weight and balance in my hands. I wasn’t strong, but with the fork I didn’t need to be, I just needed to put all my weight behind it.

Shutting the shed door, I was more determined than ever to go through with my plan. I knew I didn’t have much time either, as Pa would no doubt be keeping an eye on the clock, and I could hear the soft rumble of thunder in the distance, hinting at the approaching storm. Ducking low, I dashed past the living room windows, across the driveway, and into the field.

Immediately, I felt a wave of fear crash over me. Somewhere among the crops, Jacob was working, but somewhere else, there was a scarecrow, and it had the Devil in it. Not to mention back at the house, Ma would soon be politely commenting that I was sure taking my time and wondering where I’d scampered off to. Time was of the essence, as they say. I needed to find Jacob and then the scarecrow. I could hear my heart thumping in my chest.

Somewhere nearby there came a rustling. Or was it the wind? I shivered. “Jacob?” I whispered.

No answer.

I hurried down another row, trying to use the stars for guidance, but they were quickly concealed behind heavy clouds. Crickets were mocking me, chirping excitedly until I got close, then going quiet. Off in the woods, an owl made its presence known.

“Jacob!” I called quietly, trying to keep my voice down.

The wind picked up more, passing over me like a ghost lifting my hair and playing with it. I gripped the fork’s handle and held it against my side, trying to steady my trembling hands.

“Is that you?” I heard Jacob’s voice. A second later, he appeared from the darkness on my left, pale in the dim moonlight. “What are you doing out here? Why do you have Ma’s spade fork?”

“Jacob!” I was so overjoyed to find him I almost dropped my weapon to give him a hug. The knot that had been tying itself in my stomach slackened and a tremor ran through me as I relaxed a little. “I need your help.”

“What’s going on? Is it Dad?”

“No, the scarecrow.”

Jacob looked naturally puzzled. “The scarecrow? What about it?”

“I’ll show you,” I looked around, “Where is it?”

“You’re gonna get your hide tanned, you know that, right?” He saw the determination on my face and shrugged, “Fine. It’s this way.”

Jacob turned on his heel and disappeared among the tall crops. I hurried after him, keeping just a step behind as he took his long strides down several rows, then he stepped aside, gesturing in front of him, and I stopped dead in my tracks.

There was the old cedar post, hammered into the ground decades before I was born. There were the old boots, dangling from the straw-stuffed pant legs. There was the checkered shirt, the sod-covered gloves, sticking straight out in what I always felt was a disrespectful mockery of our savior, Jesus Christ. There was the burlap head with its mouth-less face, and big, black shoe button eyes.

And as my gaze fell upon that expressionless face, I watched in horror as the head slowly tilted down and turned to look directly at me.

In that instant, I knew I was locking eyes with Satan. I started whispering a prayer to myself, even as I felt my bladder give up the ghost and a sudden warmth run down the inside of my leg.

Jacob stood beside me. “There it is. What were you planning to do?”

I had less than a moment to consider the question. The scarecrow looked from me to Jacob, then down at the spade fork in my hands and seemed to realize what my intentions were. It reacted violently, straining against the straps that bound its arms to the perch. I could hear the old hemp ties creak in defiance. With only a moment of hesitation, I raised the fork, tucked the end of it under my shoulder, and drove it up into the scarecrow with as much force as I could muster.

The ten-inch steel tines cut through the overalls and shirt with ease, burying themselves in the scarecrow’s torso and stopping only when they hit the post on the other side. In response, the scarecrow lurched like it was in agony, twisting so hard I lost my grip on the fork. A sound came from its burlap head: a pained, muffled mimicry of a human screaming.

“Jacob! Help!” I yelled. The fork handle swung toward me and I barely managed to get a hand back on it and pull.

The scarecrow screeched again in its human-like voice, jerking as the fork slid from its belly, slick black with blood. Before it could do anything, I plunged the sharp tines into it again, further up where I thought certainly the Devil’s heart would be. It didn’t go as smoothly the second time, as blood was running down the handle, greasing my hands. The outer tines caught on something along the edges, stopping me from pushing the fork all the way in. It didn’t matter though. The scarecrow’s thrashing and spasms were already weakening.

“Jacob!” I was hysterical. Everything was getting dark, and I felt the first drops of rain hit me on the head as I tried to retain my grip on the fork handle. One more push, just for safe measure.

The scarecrow convulsed, its hands flapping in their binds. Its feet went limp and sloughed off the perch one at a time, leaving it to hang by its arms. The red, checkered shirt was stained dark with blood, and it was running down the tines and over my hands. The burlap head sagged down in defeat.

I knew I was victorious. I turned to look at my brother. “Did you see that?”

But Jacob was gone.

“Jacob?”

I could hear him running, his feet thumping in the dirt. Was my big, brave brother actually a coward in the face of Satan? But then I realized the footsteps were getting closer, not more distant, and it wasn’t my brother who appeared suddenly, brushing aside the tall stalks. It was Pa.

“What’s going on out here?” He wore an expression of concern, but when he saw the scarecrow with Ma’s spade fork hanging out of it, his eyes got big as saucers and the scarlet tinge of anger returned to his face. “WHAT DID YOU DO?!”

“I had to stop him!” I explained. “He had the Devil in him!”

“WHAT DID YOU DO?!” my father repeated. And again. And again. He was spiraling into a rage of madness like I’d never seen, and I couldn’t understand why.

“It’s the Devil, Pa,” I said meekly, “I saw him… fornicating with Ma in the barn the other night.”

Pa grabbed the fork’s handle and yanked it out of the scarecrow. I thought for sure he’d have a go at Satan himself when he heard what I’d just said, but instead he threw the implement off into the field and started putting his hands on the scarecrow’s chest, pressing down and just saying over and over again, “My boy! My boy!”

“I’m okay, Pa.” But he wasn’t listening to me.

Propping the scarecrow’s body up against his chest, he undid the binds on the wrists and let it slump over his shoulder. He turned and knelt, cradling it like a baby and then set it down in the soft dirt where it just laid there like a rag doll. The rain was picking up, coming down in a patter as he unbuttoned the neck of the scarecrow’s shirt and started pulling the head off.

Underneath was Jacob. He had a thick kerchief tied around that covered his mouth. It was dark with blood, and more was running down his chin and cheek. His eyes were open, but they didn’t seem to be looking anywhere in particular, like he was lost in a thought.

“But I saw Jacob–” I couldn’t finish my sentence.

Ma appeared behind me, grabbing my shoulder tightly. “What’s the commotion? Is it Jacob?”

Pa was rocking back and forth, cradling Jacob in his arms and sobbing. I’d never seen him cry before. “Oh, Jacob! Oh, my boy!”

Ma screamed, her howl piercing my brain, her fingers digging into my shoulder so hard she almost pushed me to my knees. “Not Jacob! Oh lord, please not my baby!” She collapsed beside Pa and started stroking Jacob’s hair and kissing his forehead. “He’s okay! Oh, my baby! He’s gonna be okay!”

I covered my ears to drown out their wailing, pulling so hard they felt ready to tear off. I felt the sting of warm tears fill my eyes and run down my face. This couldn’t be Jacob. Jacob had been right there with me. He had led me to the scarecrow. I had seen him.

Only it hadn’t been Jacob. Jacob had been where he always was when Pa put him to the field, done up in the scarecrow’s clothes to hide his harsh punishment from judgmental neighbors, forced to think on his sins. He was where he had been when Ma had gone to find and comfort him, her big, strong son who reminded her so much of Pa before he became so cold and cruel with bitterness and age. He was where he was when he and Ma had eventually found comfort in each other. I had never known and could not understand for at the time I was too young.

No, it hadn’t been Jacob that led me there that night. It had been Satan. Satan beat me after all; he’d used my family’s sins to destroy us.

Our tears, Jacob’s blood, my parents inconsolable wailing, clutching each other and their dead son, it all mixed together in the rain and thunder and earth.

Rating: 8.00/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by William Dalphin
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: William Dalphin


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